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A Love Letter to Masks and Shadows, A Guest post from Stephanie Burgis

Karina: I was reading my ARC of Masks and Shadows and absolutely loving each moment. It reminded me of my teenage self greedily reading Consuelo by George Sand which is similarly immersed into the world of music and secret societies of the 18th century, so I begged Stephanie to write a guest post describing what made her start writing Masks and Shadows. Thank you so much for coming over here, Stephanie, and welcome! 


I was working on my very, very serious PhD thesis (about opera and politics in late-eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza) when I stumbled unexpectedly across the spark for my first adult novel:

Why did the Freemasons Visit Hell?”

It was the chapter title in a scholarly book about Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, and yes, it was a deliberately provocative title…but it was also written about real rites performed by secret societies in Mozart’s Vienna, where they – symbolically – did indeed visit Hell.

And of course, as I read about those rites – because I was an f/sf fan long before I was a graduate student! - I immediately wondered: What if it wasn’t just symbolic?

Vienna was chock-full of secret societies in the 1770s and 1780s. Mozart was a member of the Freemasons, but there were a number of other underground societies as well, serving everyone from bored (and, at times, extremely dangerous) aristocrats to upwardly mobile middle-class status-seekers.

It was also a hub of alchemy – and not just the kind we look back on as proto-science. Nowadays, we can feel pretty confident, as we look back on the salons and held in upper-class Viennese drawing rooms, that the alchemists who summoned elementals and more for eager audiences were in fact con-men. But again, as I read about those alchemical performances, I thought: What if…?

 Joseph Haydn

Meanwhile, I was also studying the opera house at the isolated Hungarian palace of Eszterháza, where Joseph Haydn was the Kapellmeister, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy ruled with absolute authority…and the Prince’s own wife was forced to live in the shadows of their palace while Prince Nikolaus’s much-younger mistress served as his official hostess and companion. It was a situation ripe with emotional drama.

And when I began to read about the fiery legal and religious debates held in different European countries all across the century, as people fought over the question of whether the superstar castrato singers (who, of course, could not sire children) ought to be allowed to marry…debates which showcased many of the same arguments that were hauled out yet again in the debate over gay marriage in the 21st century…

Well. It all came together like the different musical themes of a wildly romantic opera! (My very favorite kind.)

I never did end up finishing that PhD thesis. But I hope you guys enjoy the novel that emerged instead! :)

The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy's carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus's mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband's death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace's golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress--a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.

Guys, I loved this book and will be posting my review very soon, so totally recommend it!

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